30 Jan 2019
A Commentary by John Stott
Galatians 2:6-9a. 2). Paul’s gospel.
As we have already seen, Paul had a private interview with the Jerusalem apostles (verse 2). We know who these men were, before whom he laid his gospel, because they are identified by name later in verse 9. They are James, the Lord’s brother, Peter and John. In other verses in this paragraph, however, Paul uses indirect expressions to describe them. They are ‘the men of repute’ (verse 2, NEB), those ‘reputed to be something’ (verse 6) and those ‘reputed to be pillars’ (verse 9). In each case Paul alludes to them according to their repute. He is not being derogatory to them, for he has acknowledged them already in
Galatians 1:17 as ‘apostles before me’, and he is to tell us in verse 9 that they gave him ‘the right hand of fellowship’. Why then does he refer to them in this roundabout way? Probably his expressions were influenced by the fact that the Judaizers were exaggerating the status of the Jerusalem apostles at the expense of his own. As Lightfoot puts it, Paul was ‘depreciatory not indeed of the Twelve themselves, but of the extravagant and exclusive claims set up for them by the Judaizers.
Perhaps the false brethren were drawing attention to what they regarded as the superior qualification of James, Peter and John – that James was one of the Lord’s brethren, and that Peter and John had belonged to the inner circle of three. Besides this, they had of course known Jesus in the days of His flesh, which Paul probably had not. It may be to this that Paul refers in the parenthesis of verse 6: ‘what they *were* makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality.’ Or ‘God does not recognize these personal distinctions’ (NEB). Paul’s words are neither a denial of, nor a remark of disrespect for, their apostolic authority. He is simply indicating that, although he accepts their *office* as apostles, he is not overawed by their *person* as it was being inflated by the Judaizers.
3). The outcome of the consultation (verses 9b-10).
Here then, is Paul laying his gospel before the Jerusalem apostles. What was the outcome of this consultation? Did they contradict his gospel? Did they modify it, edit it, trim it, supplement it? No. Paul mentions two results, one negative and the other positive.
The negative outcome is seen at the end of verse 6: they *added nothing to me*. In other words, they did not find Paul’s gospel defective. They made no attempt to add circumcision to it, or to embellish it in any other way. They did not say to Paul, ‘Your gospel is all right as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough; You must add to it.’ In fact they changed nothing. Significantly, Paul describes the gospel which he laid before the apostles as ‘the gospel which I preach’ (present tense). It is as if he wrote: ‘the gospel which I submitted to the other apostles is the gospel which I am still preaching. The gospel which I am preaching today was not altered by them. It is the same as I preached before I saw them. It is the gospel which I preached to you and which you received. I have added nothing, subtracted nothing, changed nothing. It is you Galatians who are deserting the gospel; it is not I.’ This, then, was the negative result. They ‘added nothing to me’.
The positive outcome of the consultation was that they *gave to me…the right hand of fellowship* (verse 9). They recognized that they and Paul had been entrusted with the same gospel. The only difference between them was that they had been allocated different spheres in which to preach it. The Authorized Version rendering of verse 7 is a little misleading. It refers to ‘the gospel of the uncircumcision’ and ‘the gospel of the circumcision’, as if they were two different gospels, one for the Gentiles and one for the Jews. This is not so. What the apostles realized was that God was at work in His grace through both Peter and Paul (verses 8, 9). So they gave Paul the right hand of fellowship, which means that they ‘accepted Barnabas and myself as partners, and shook hands on it’ (NEB). They simply recognized *that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised* (verse 9).
They also added that they wanted Paul and Barnabas to *remember the poor*, the poverty-stricken churches of Judea, which, Paul says, was the *very thing I was eager to do* (verse 10). Indeed, it was primarily for famine relief that he and Barnabas were in Jerusalem at that time, as we saw earlier. And he continued to care for the poor in the following years, organizing his famous collection. He urged the more wealthy Gentile churches of Macedonia and Achaia to support the poorer churches of Judea, and regarded their gift as a means to foster and demonstrate Jewish-Gentile solidarity in the fellowship of the Christian church.
Looking back over the first paragraph of Galatians 2, we have learned that, on his second visit to Jerusalem, Paul met two groups of men, whose attitude to him differed completely. The ‘false brethren’, who disagreed with his gospel and his policy, tried to compel Titus to be circumcised. Paul refused to submit to them. The apostles, on the other hand, acknowledged the truth of Paul’s gospel and gave him their hand in confirmation.
Tomorrow: Galatians 2. Conclusion.